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NCH appeals NRMC cath lab recommendation

NATCHEZ — Residents with heart trouble will have to continue traveling outside of Natchez for diagnostic testing for a little while at least.

A legal battle to re-open a heart catheterization lab at Natchez Regional Medical Center could last at least 60 days or up to three years.

Natchez Community Hospital filed a public hearing request Monday to determine whether NCH or NRMC is best suited to operate a cath lab in Natchez.

Both hospitals applied for a certificate of need to open a cath lab approximately six months ago. The Mississippi State Department of Health made a recommendation in favor of NRMC last month.

NCH’s request to present their case to an independent hearing officer was filed at the end of a 20-day window to review the state’s decision.

NRMC attorney Walter Brown said a public hearing should be scheduled in a few days. Brown said he hopes the cath lab can open soon after the 60-day review process, but judicial appeals could last up to three years.

“We certainly don’t want to delay the process,” NCH CEO Donny Rentfro said.

Rentfro said the hearing is a common process that allows both parties to present their findings to determine the best choice for the community.

Brown said reviews like the one NCH filed are more common when they involve larger medical facilities.

The law firm of Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush filed two requests on behalf of NCH along with a $12,000 filing fee.

The first request challenges the state health department’s decision not to grant NCH a certificate of need for the lab. The second request challenges the department’s decision to open a lab at NRMC.

Brown said he thinks the hearing officer will condense the hearing requests into one.

Cardiologist Dr. Brad LeMay said the cath lab would treat 90 percent of the area’s cardiovascular cases. Sixty percent of heart patients currently travel out of town.

A cath lab scans images of arteries to determine if there is any blockage. LeMay said the lab would be used for diagnostics, which are safe to perform without a resident cardiovascular surgeon on staff. The lab will not provide therapeutic procedures such as balloons or stints, which require a surgeon on site.

LeMay said NRMC is the best location for the cath lab because an unused facility is already in place.

“It would be foolish not to use the lab that’s already here and ready to go,” he said.

However, LeMay said he would use NCH’s cath lab if the hospital’s appeal is successful.

“A new cardiovascular program could be a springboard for more programs in Natchez in terms of medical care,” LeMay said.

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